“Opening Pandora’s Box” “The Midas Touch” … It’s All Greek to Me, Part 1

I dunno. When I was a kid, maybe five years old, my parents gave me an illustrated children’s book of Greek mythology.

Famous Myths of the Golden Age - 1958.
Famous Myths of the Golden Age – 1958.

And it was all there – Apollo in his golden chariot, Prometheus chained to a rock, Icarus falling into the sea, Jason, Medusa, the Golden Fleece, even tales of the brave Odysseus. And I ate it up with a spoon. I loved every page.

But today, how many people do you think really have had any direct exposure to the history, ideas, art, and culture of Ancient Greece, except maybe having once attended a toga party at a Greek fraternity in college?

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Living the Life of Reilly…On Easy Street…While Living High off the Hog

All of the above idioms speak to the same thing. They help describe the experience of living (or aspiring to live) a life of leisure and luxury. Being well situated. Having it made.

But where did these expressions come from? And who was Reilly (or Riley) anyhow? Who indeed?

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“Get Out of Dodge,” “Shuffle Off to Buffalo”

Two Idioms, A Tale of Two Cities.

  “Get out of Dodge” (or its more empathetic but still family-friendly formulation, “Get the heck out of Dodge”) as well as “Shuffle off to Buffalo” are two idioms that express roughly the same sentiment. Which is to say both indicate the need to depart from a location or situation.

But how these two idioms differ in shading or emphasis is what the fun is all about when it comes to understanding and using figures of speech.

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“Dead as a Doornail,” “Fit as a Fiddle”

To be “dead as a doornail” is for a person or thing to be really, absolutely, for sure, dead. To be “fit as a fiddle” is to be in excellent health and physical fitness.

What do these still popular expressions have in common? Not their meanings, which are just about diametrically opposite of each other.

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“Jake” was a popular slang word from the Roaring Twenties/Great Depression era and was used to indicate that a person or thing was in good order.

Synonyms for “jake” include “okay,” “hunky-dory,” and “copacetic.”

“We’ve got the picnic basket, the sandwiches, the beer, gas in the car – everything’s jake. Let’s go!”

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The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread


The above expression is used to signify a person, thing, or experience as awesomely superlative.

As in…
“… Heather’s got it all – brains, good looks, a terrific sense of humor, plus she’s the nicest person ever. She’s the greatest thing since sliced bread.”

“… Once scientists invent Harry Potter’s “Cloak of Invisibility” for real, it will be the greatest thing since sliced bread.”

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The expression “scot-free” means to totally escape any penalty, harm, responsibility, or monetary disadvantage normally associated with a given act or situation. In other words, “to beat the rap.” But how do Scots figure into this figure of speech? Is it because our kilt-wearing brethren are better able to dodge what’s due?

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“Palooka” apparently first appeared in the sports pages of the early 1920s and was used to describe an inept, clumsy, and none-too-clever and none-too-admirable athlete, especially a prizefighter. Gradually, “palooka” also came to serve as shorthand for a thug and finally as a synonym for a “loveable big lug.”

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